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Q: Do children’s liquid and chewable medicines have to be kosher?
A: The answer to your question depends on the answers to three other questions:
1 – Are liquid and chewable medicines considered edible?
Liquid and chewable medicines taste good enough that a child can “get them down” but typically do not taste as good as something a person would consider eating if they weren’t ill. Some Poskim hold (based in part on Shulchan Aruch OC 442 as per Mishnah Berurah 442:20) that such items are not considered edible, and may be consumed regardless of whether the ingredients are kosher. According to this opinion, there is no need to investigate if a given medicine is kosher (or to consider the two other questions listed below), and a child may take any liquid or chewable medicine much in the way that adults may take any medication in tablet form. Others argue that nowadays these medicines are tasty enough to qualify as “edible”; therefore, they hold that if the ingredients are not kosher one may not give it to the child unless they can “correctly” answer the next two questions.
2 – Are there any substitutes?
If there is an alternate method of treating the illness which either uses an inedible medicine (e.g. a tablet) or one that has no kosher-sensitive ingredients, then one may not use the non-kosher medicine. For example, one may not use liquid acetaminophen that contains non-kosher glycerin if there are other brands that bear a reputable hashgachah or do not contain any glycerin. If no alternative exists, then we must consider one last question before deciding if the medicine is acceptable.
3 – Does the condition warrant taking a (possibly) non-kosher medicine?
One may consume a non-kosher medicine if [there is no kosher alternative and] there is even the slightest chance that if one does not treat the illness it might endanger someone’s life. Almost every single case where antibiotics are prescribed for a child meets into this criteria, because if these illnesses are not treated they may lead to more serious complications which can be life threatening. Accordingly, such medicines may be consumed regardless of whether the medicine’s ingredients are kosher. If the medicine is merely used to relieve discomfort (e.g. a laxative) but will not treat or help in the treatment of a serious illness, then the medicine can only be consumed if one can first ascertain that the ingredients are kosher.
We do however caution that before deciding to not give a specific medicine to a child, one should consult with their doctor and Rabbi who will consider the different factors and render a decision that is specific to your situation.